In Hindsight: Security Council Elections 2019
The 73rd session of the UN General Assembly is expected to hold elections on 7 June for five non-permanent members of the Security Council for the term 2020-2021. (For more detailed information, please see our 14 May research report Security Council Elections 2019.)
The five seats available for election in 2019 according to the customary distribution among regions will be as follows:
- two seats for the African Group (currently held by Côte d´Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea);
- one seat for the Group of Asia and the Pacific Small Island Developing States (the Asia-Pacific Group, currently held by Kuwait);
- one seat for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States (GRULAC, currently held by Peru); and
- one seat for the Eastern European Group (currently held by Poland).
The Western European and Others Group (WEOG) is not contesting any seats this year as both its seats, currently held by Belgium and Germany, come up for election every other year.
Six member states—Estonia, Niger, Romania, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and Viet Nam—are currently running for the five available seats. Estonia and Romania are contesting the single Eastern European Group seat, while the other four candidates will run unopposed.
Four of the six candidates have served on the Council previously: Niger has served once, nearly 40 years ago (1980-1981); Romania has served four times, starting with one year as a result of the split term in 1962 and 1963 between Romania and the Philippines (1962, 1976-1977, 1990-1991 and 2004-2005); Tunisia has served three times (1959-1960, 1980-1981 and 2000-2001); and Viet Nam has served once (2008–2009). Estonia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines have never served on the Council.
Regardless of whether the election is contested, a country must obtain the votes of two-thirds of the member states present and voting at the General Assembly session in order to secure a seat on the Council. This means that a minimum of 129 positive votes are required to win a seat if all 193 UN member states are present and voting.
Election to the Council, as with other principal organs of the UN, requires formal balloting even if candidates have been endorsed by their regional group and are running unopposed. In theory it is possible, although unlikely, that a member state running unopposed might not garner the requisite votes in the General Assembly in the first round. Such a country could then be challenged in subsequent rounds by a new candidate, and ultimately not obtain a seat.
There have been several instances in which extended rounds of voting were required to fill a contested seat. Such situations have usually been solved by the withdrawal of one of the contenders or the election of a compromise candidate, rather than by agreeing on a split term. The sole exception to this practice since 1966 was the 2016 agreement between Italy and the Netherlands to split the 2017-2018 term.
Potential Council Dynamics in 2020
This will be the fourth Council election since its timing was brought forward from October to June. As a result, the incoming members enjoy a longer preparatory period, including three months of participation as observers in Council consultations of the whole, Council subsidiary bodies, and some informal Council meetings. Although it is difficult to assess how the Council’s dynamics might evolve next year, the priorities raised in the campaigns by the candidates, as well as their long-standing interests, provide some indication (discussed in alphabetical order below).
During its campaign, Estonia placed cyber-security high on its list of priorities, including in the context of responding to threats of cyber-attacks and developing international norms and standards to deal with this issue. Tunisia and Romania also highlighted cyber-security in their campaigns. Estonia is the only candidate that is a member of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group (ACT). In this regard, if elected, Estonia is likely to seek to advance the goals of ACT, including those involving working methods of the Council aimed at enhancing non-members’ interaction with the Council. The goals of ACT are likely to resonate with other Council members that, while not part of the group, are committed to enhancing the accountability, effectiveness and legitimacy of the Council.
A key issue facing Niger is the deteriorating security situation in West Africa and the Sahel. Niger faces a “triple threat” as a result of the conflict in Mali to its east, the war in Libya to its north, and the presence of Boko Haram in the south-east, so it can be expected to take a particular interest in these issues. As part of the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel), Niger is likely to be especially interested in the Council’s engagement on this and also in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), to which Niger is a significant troop contributor.
During its Security Council campaign, Romania placed peacebuilding high on its list of priorities. Romania chaired the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) in 2018 and has served as vice-chair in 2019. If elected, Romania can be expected to foster cooperation between the Security Council and the PBC. During its most recent term on the Security Council from 2004 to 2005, Romania was particularly engaged around preventive diplomacy and post-conflict reconstruction as well as cooperation between the UN and regional organisations. If elected, Romania is expected to focus again on these issues.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines campaigned on emphasising the need to address the effects of climate change and the linkages between climate and security. Estonia similarly identified this issue as high on its list of priorities. Romania, Tunisia and Viet Nam also highlighted the issue. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is also likely to take a keen interest in the situation in Haiti, given its geographical proximity. Also, given its involvement in regional dialogue efforts in Venezuela, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines may want to be active in the Council’s engagement on the issue.
Tunisia can be expected to emphasise African issues, which make up the bulk of the Council’s agenda. Given that it contributes most of its UN troops to MINUSMA, Tunisia is likely to take particular interest in this file. Representing the candidature for the Arab swing seat, Tunisia is also expected to be involved on Middle East issues, in particular Israel/Palestine. As with Romania and Viet Nam, Tunisia has indicated that one of its priorities is the strengthening of ties with regional bodies, notably the AU and the League of Arab States.
During Viet Nam’s previous term on the Security Council from 2008 to 2009, it was particularly engaged around issues relating to post-conflict reconstruction, terrorism, sanctions, peacekeeping and improving the transparency of the work of the Council. Viet Nam is likely to seek to further its contribution to these issues. It is also likely to take a particular interest in the situation in South Sudan, given that it contributes most of its UN troops to the UN Mission in South Sudan. As a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the chair of the organisation in 2020, Viet Nam is likely to advocate for stronger engagement with regional arrangements and to be actively engaged on the Council’s consideration of the situation in Myanmar.